Ever wish you had a work table that could handle all your jobs?
When I first started out over fifteen years ago, I would use anything I could find as a table. I’d lay plywood on the ground, I’d set plywood on wood blocks, and, finally, I grew up enough to use sawhorses. But most of the time my “table” was never big enough for the project I was working on. And it was never efficient.
One day reality hit me—or almost hit me. I’d loaded up twenty 2 x 6 x 8 PT joists to cut on the plywood and sawhorses. Just as I finished marking my first measurement, and was ready to make the cut, the whole table collapsed and just missed my toes. We all know how much pain that would have inflicted. Right then and there I knew it was time to change my work table situation.
I wanted something big enough for all kinds of jobs, but small enough to carry and transport—something I could leave in my truck. I also wanted it to be efficient for doing layout chores, for assembling and fastening projects. And it had to be durable; it had to hold up to any kind of weather. After some thought, I came up with a plan.
For my first table, I made the top using 1/2-in MDO and used 5/4-in. x 6-in. pre-primed lumber for the frame. It was all pocket-screwed together. I installed a self-adhesive tape measure on one side and laid the table on metal folding horses. That table worked pretty well. It was small enough to transport, but it wasn’t big enough for a lot of my projects. It held up very well to the weather, but when I cut sheet goods on it, and sometimes cut into the table itself, it became difficult to use—sometimes stock got stuck in the grooves, and pieces of the table would break off. I needed more from that table than I was getting. Still, that first table lasted me about three years! All that time, I brooded about improving the design.
I wanted a table that would be more efficient for all my projects. I decided to take another stab at it. This time, I wanted one that would be big enough to work on, but small enough to transport. I wanted it to be large enough for two guys to work on it at the same time, so we could move through projects faster without increasing set-up time. I wanted the table to support rafters and joists, to assist measuring and layout. I wanted to use it as a miter-saw stand. I wanted to use it for drilling and assembling pocket-screw kits for windows and door trim. Basically, I wanted this table to be a work station for all my rough and finish projects.
Durable & Lightweight
MDO had proven itself durable enough for my first table, so I used the same material for the top of the new one. I rarely use a table saw on the job. Instead, I use a guide-rail and plunge cutting saw to cut sheet goods. I like using a track saw to cut all my sheet goods. Track saws are great to use on all phases of a job. They’re very accurate, easy to use, and don’t require two people, as with cutting sheet goods on a table saw.
As with the first table, I made the new frame from 5/4 x 6 pre-primed pine stock. It’s light and strong, and the material is perfectly straight. I used weather-resistive pocket screws to fasten the framing together and secure the top. I ripped all my frame stock to width, getting two pieces from one 5/4 x 6.
|Like I said, I wanted this table to last a long time, so I primed all my cuts.|
|Then I drilled holes for my pocket screws.|
To assemble the frame, I set up a 90 degree corner and fastened it to my work table with pocket screws.
Using the corner made it much easier to keep the framing tight, and allowed me to assemble all the pieces without clamps—so I moved much faster. That’s another reason I like working on a good table—I can cobble together a jig or fixture very quickly. Since most of my work is repetitive, those jigs and fixtures always save me time and energy, especially when I’m working alone.
No matter how hard I try to cover every base, I seem to always forget something. You’ll notice from these photographs that I glued and pocket-screwed all the frames together before realizing that I had to drill pocket holes to attach the top, too! Fortunately, I was still able to get the frame onto my pocket hole jig.
To make sure the top stayed put, I attached it with screws and adhesive. My current adhesive of choice is called Pur Stick by Todol Products. I love this adhesive because it’s easy to use and bonds to almost anything. All I do is shake the can for about a minute, release the pressure to my desired amount and squeeze away. I use it on most of my projects, from framing to finish. I also use it for interior and exterior projects. The gun costs about $100, and each can costs about $21, which is more affordable than some other top adhesive products.
I used pocket screws to fasten the top because I didn’t want any screw heads—even counter sunk screws—in the top. I wanted a smooth surface to work on. Besides, to keep the table light, I used 1/2-in material which doesn’t provide enough thickness to countersink the screws.
One thing I hated about my first table was carrying and storing it. That, and the fact that it was too small for many of my projects. The thing I like most about this new version of my work table is that it folds in half, making it easy to store, transport, and set up. And because it folds in half, I was able to make this table bigger than my first one. I used a piano hinge to attach the two halves together.
I didn’t think of it at the time, but a folding table is also handy when you have to suddenly move your setup to a different location—it can act as a handy carrying case! You can stick a bunch of tools inside, fold the table up, and carry a lot of different stuff at the same time.
|To strengthen the 1/2-in. top, I installed cleats about every two feet along with foam glue, and pocket-screwed it to both parts of the frames.|
|To make sure the table doesn’t open while I’m carrying it, I installed two sash on the front edge.|
Having a work table that’s lightweight and easy to setup is great, but it’s the accessories that really turn a table into an efficient work station. And there’s no end to the accessories. I keep thinking of new ones.
I attached self-adhesive measuring strips around the entire perimeter of the table, which makes it easy to measure materials—no matter where I’m working, one of those tapes is always available.
I also installed two Kreg clamps, one near the center of the table, and one near the end. I made a quick template guide and mortised the key-hole plates flush with the top.
Cutting Adhesive Flashing
I use a tremendous amount of self-adhesive membrane, and always like cutting it square. So I made a cutting board that keeps me from cutting into my table—something that used to really bother me. The cutting board works just like the one in my kitchen. The plastic cutting surface is smooth and, surprisingly, it stays that way!
Miter saw supports
I do all types of work—demo, digging, concrete, framing, and finish. I use my miter saw a lot, and when I do, I’m often cutting framing material. For that reason, I don’t need continuous extension wings—that would be just one more thing to store and carry. Instead, to make it easier to set up my miter saw, I installed a couple of handy pop-up supports. I probably spent more time on these accessories than I did building the whole table, but it was worth every minute invested.
I started by cutting slots in the uprights, which receive a pair of bolts and wing nuts. Using one bolt wasn’t an option—I didn’t want the support to swivel. Finish carpenters who need continuous extension wing supports can use this same system.
Next, I drilled pocket holes in the top of the uprights, then attached the top.
Carrying, storing, and setting up this work table is a snap. It takes up very little room in my truck and sets up on my saw horses in a second.
|When I’m cutting sheetgoods, I put a few sleepers on top of the table. The surface is always dead flat–the table never sags.|
The first time I used my new table I was trimming out some windows. Using the cutting board, I cut membrane to size for water protection. I set up my miter saw and cut all the window trim, then drilled and fastened the frames with pocket screws—using my Kreg clamp. When I was finished, I folded up the table and slid it into my truck. Setup and rollup were effortless, and the table worked even better than I imagined.
Work tables are an important tool for me, and this one is the best I’ve ever used; in fact, it’s the first tool I set up on every job site!
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Please don’t try anything you see in THISisCarpentry, or anywhere else for that matter, unless you’re completely certain that you can do it safely.
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Emanuel Silva has always had a love for carpentry. At the age of three, his mother heard an unusual noise coming from the living room where Emanuel was playing. She went in to see what was going on, and found Emanuel with a butter knife and spoon trying to cut the end table. She asked him what he was doing and why. His response was, “I’m try to cut these small spindles off and attach them to the bottom of the table so the table won’t shake anymore.”
As Emanuel grew up, he would get involved in anything that required manual labor. Whenever it snowed, he would be out there shoveling, and in the spring when his father would prep the garden for vegetables, he would help turn the dirt over with a shovel.
When Emanuel went to high school, he also enrolled in a local carpentry program. He graduated high school and completed the carpentry program, for which he was given an award for “Outstanding Tradesman.” Emanuel then attended the North Bennet Street School, for a nine month carpentry program. After graduating, he went to work as a carpenter’s helper. He then got his carpenter’s license and struck out on his own.
Emanuel now owns and operates Silva Lightning Builders. No, it’s not an electrical company. In high school, he and a friend had always talked about going into business together, and they came up with that name—they’d been thinking of the image of a silver lighting bolt, and came up with the name Silva Lightning Builders. (Those not from New England might not get the play on words.) His company does complete renovation work, from rough to finish.
Emanuel is always looking for new ways to improve his skills by attending carpentry shows, reading magazines and watching how-to shows. He is really excited about giving back to others some of what he knows, and hopes to write many more articles in the future. He has written for JLC and Fine Homebuilding magazines.
Emanuel lives with his wife, Diane, and their three boys Zachary, Carter and Corey. When not working, he loves going on walks and taking day trips with his family. Right now, they’re spending most of their time renovating their 1900s bungalow. Emanuel’s middle child has the carpentry bug, too. He is now six, and has been helping his dad since he was one. Who knows, maybe in the future it will be Silva Lightning and Sons!
Nice article. What is the overall weight of your work table?
Great Question. It weighs between 25lbs to 35lbs.
Beautiful setup. Reading an article like this makes me want to go out and build something immediately and makes me realize just how unorganized I am!
Very nice. We use similar tables but not as elaborate.
Don’t quite understand the framing. You say you made two 5/4 x 6 pieces out of each 2×8? Must be a typo.
Thanks for catching that.Your right.We ripped two pieces out of a 5/4 x 6 not 2 x 8.
Editor’s Note: This has been fixed in the article.
How cool is that! Great idea!
I like all the bells & whistles you put on Emanuel. Tape, pocket jig keys, outfeed support,…where’s the integrated cooler? I am thinking of doing something very similar except for the fact that I was considering making the dimension 3’x~7′ & I would like to hinge it along the width of the table instead of the length. I work out of a standard size van & a ~3×3′ footprint would store much easier for me. Any thoughts on stability?
I like the idea of hinging along the width. Makes it easier to fold and takes up less space in the truck. I made the frame of 5/4 pine with braces in between the rails as supports fastened with pocket screws. Makes for great stability.
Gonna have to try that. I’m afraid of working on my MFT out in the weather. Plus, I just need a larger worksurface.
Nice article! What are the overall dimensions of the table? It looks like 4′ x 8′. Did I miss them in the article? Do you ever need to clamp to the edges?
Thanks for the nice response. Yes,its made from a full sheet of mdo cut in half.What do you mean by clamp to the edges?
Do you clamp work to the top of the table using the edges of the table to attach clamps. It looks like the table is about 6″ thick, so you’d need clamps with a throat opening of 6″ plus the thickness of the work piece. I’m curious if you use it this way and if so, how the table performs? Thanks.
Hey Bob, I use the Kreg clamps that I mortised into my table. One close to the edge of the table and one in the middle. When I need to hold down long stock the length of the table I use two quick grip clamps. It works great. Thanks
Great article! I’ve had number of tables too, but ended up making them to heavy to move around by myself. I’m also curious about the weight, and how does the MDO hold up to weather?
Thank You. It weighs between 25lbs to 35lbs. I made my first work table with an mdo top about 4 years ago and I’m still using it when I need an extra surface to work on.I do a lot of work outside where its been in the rain and snow.The mdo is in the same shape as it was when I built it but, has several cut in it from cutting sheet goods.I now lay a piece of insulation board on top to keep my top cut free.
Wow, that’s great to see real craftsmanship alive and well! In my neck of the woods, you should see what passes for a carpenter (Florida). :O
Now I’ve got to build one! Like you I have a tracksaw and often find it akward to move the tracks on and off the table, I hate to just set them on the floor. I would like my table to have a storage place for my tracks, any suggestions? How do you deal with moving your tracks on and off the table? Thanks.
Jesse, I made cabinets for my box truck and have a dedicated compartment for all my tracks and long levels.If I were to store them in my work table, I could cut into the cleats just enough to have the tracks fit allowing the work table to close. If your looking for a place for the tracks while using the table I usually store them against a wall within arms reach.
One suggestion. Add a couple 3″ wheels to the thing on one end of the long side and it will be a lot easier to move around, like a wheel barrow. Save your back!
Thanks for the tip. I’ve thought about that when I was building my table,but by installing even smaller wheels along the side it would stick out causing me to run into them.
Looks like a really sturdy table. I usually make due with whatever I have on hand but this seems much more efficient.
I do have another question that does not really relate to the table though. What brand tool apron are wearing in the pics? I had one similar to it years ago and have not been able to find one since. Does it happen to have a tag with a “model” number in the pockets? If you wouldn’t mind letting me know, I would really appreciate it!
I am a carpenter of 30+ years and a good tool belt is essential.
Thanks for any help and keep up the good work!
Your right Mike. A tool belt is essential. I have mine organized with all the tools that I couldn’t do with out. I’ve even modified it to suit my needs. I bought the belt about 4 yrs ago. The maker is CLC Custom Leather Craft. Let me tell you that this is the BEST tool belt that I’ve ever had and I have bought many many many that I didn’t like. I liked it so much that I bought two for myself and one for my helper. Wish I bought more because I called the maker to get more and they said its discontinued.Tried searching online for about a year and no luck but did find the maker of Bucketboss which has one very similar to CLC. model # is 88427. Good Luck and thanks for the comment.
Hey Emanuel. Just a short update to the toolbelt. I had to return a tool bag to The Home Depot and thought while I was there I would look at their tool aprons. Turns out that they brought one out that was an “odd-ball” leftover that did not sell. It was the CLC Signature 19428. It is the one you have in the pics! I grabbed it for $55 and really like it so far! I am keeping my eyes open for one as a spare also. Thanks again for your help!
Hey Mike , Any luck on finding more of that toolbelt.
I had a good tool belt but required the extra support over my shoulders and I could not find one on the market here in the UK. The solution was found in a local military supply store where I bought a yoke to go over my shoulders and sewed the necessary buckles to my tool belt and then ran the straps of the yoke through that. It took about an hour and I have never looked back since as I can now have a fair amount of weight hanging from or in my tool belt and it doesn’t cause discomfort or pull my trousers down. The yoke looked something like the one at this web address
Hope that helps
I always carry 2 sets of folding sawhorses in my trailer; by the way, it is the best tool I have ever invested in and I have made due with working on them. Now my next project will be a table like this and I think I will add an electrical outlet strip.
Freacken Brilliant. For the metrically inclined(at least me, the fractions leave me rather befuddled), how wide is the top, I’ve been planning something similar, of 2x 500mm sections. Standard sheets here are 1.2, about 4ft, so it seems a good standard, plus then i can cut the cleats and the top from one sheet.
Emanuel, I really liked your table — so I built something similar yesterday. The only problem I’m having is the inconsistency in either side’s height. The MDO sheets don’t match up perfectly when I unfold it on my saw horses. Secondly, I noticed you had what appears to be a couple of 2×4’s braced across the width. I can’t seem to get mine perfectly flat because of the hinge. I suppose I could dado a channel down the 2×4’s so that it doesn’t buckle in the middle? Any ideas?
Hi Nick, Thanks for the feed back. You might need to adjust the hinge in order for it to lay flat. Sometimes the stock is not pefrctly straight causing things to shift. On my table I had to do some minor adjustments in order for it to lay flat.I’m not sure what you mean by when you say 2×4 braces. I used 5/4 stock pocket screwed on edge. Let me know if this helps.
Thanks for writing back. My sawhorses aren’t quite 48 inches wide, so I had to put 2×4’s across them to span the complete width of the table. What I came up with was using 4 shims, and adjusting them to make the table lay flat depending on what kind of ground I’m on, and to compensate for the barrel of the hinge, works pretty well. I really like the design, and plan to add some handles. I used some 1×4 stock, wish I’d used the 5/4 like you did. My stock wasn’t perfectly straight either — I tried to correct it as best I could when I pocket holed it. The table works great with the track saw (I went with the dewalt model, because I got a great deal on it — while it works well, I’m envious of the festool unit). I’m thinking about added some of Kreg’s klamp track on one end, in addition to a few bench clamps. What did you do for a kreg jig setup? I was thinking of making an attachment by taking a small 1 foot by 4 foot piece of 1″ plywood, and routing out the footprint of the kreg jig. That way, I could place the kreg jig in its entirety on the table, come up with some sort of securing method, and then when done kregging — remove the entire thing to regain the work table space. Any thoughts? I really appreciate your work.
Hi Nick, Sorry for taking so long to get back to you. I cut up a piece of 3/4 MDO and mount my Kreg jig on it. When I’m done for the day I unscrew it from the plywood and store it in my work bench.Most of the time I just use my mini pocket jig with my table bench clamp that I attached to my table.
What kind of canopy are you working under? Also I went to the lumber yard and the only MDO they had was primed 2 sided…..@ $60, but regular good 1 sided was $30. Is the MDO really that much more durable?
Hi Jonathan, the canopy is from Caravan Tents. My work table is always outside and if I used regular plywood my tables wouldn’t last as long as they do.
Thanks for sharing the work table design. I have a question about the setup you have for the Kreg Jig. I just bought one and it has changed a little it seems. Did you create the wings that go out on either side to give the stock more to rest on or is that something that came from Kreg. Mine didn’t come with those and I cannot find them on Kreg’s site. The accessories picture shows the Kreg Jig on the plywood with the wings. It seems like those would help make make a better joint.
I’m glad you enjoyed the article. I bought that Kreg Jig about ten years ago. I’m assuming that it’s not in stock anymore. If those wings help you then, I would just make my own from some stock. You could make them any size you’d like. After purchasing the Kreg jig, I really didn’t use it till about two or three years later. I wish I had used it the first day I owned it because now I use it on most of my projects.
Thnaks again for reading,